Kansas City, Mo. – Most times during practice, you’ll know where to find Deon Butler.
If the rookie receiver out of Penn State is not on the field, he’s usually cozied up to the white board where the current play the offense is running is written down for the rest of the offensive players to see.
Butler finds himself needing to glance up less and less as he sees more time on the field and learns the new offense; he knows the more familiar he becomes with the offense in general and his position in particular, the faster he can play when he’s on the field.
“I want to get to the point where I hear the play and – Bam! – I know exactly what I’m doing,” he said. “Even if it’s a play I’m not in on, I want to know it so I know what I would’ve done, because in a game, you’re not going to have a play sheet like that. You’re going to have to know the plays off the top of your head.”
The third-round draft pick has lived up to expectations so far during exhibition play. He’s hauled in five catches for 54 yards in two preseason games for Seattle. And Butler put his trademark speed on display while scoring his first career touchdown as a Seahawk, a 34-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on the team’s first drive last week against Denver.
Along with that, for a guy with a slight build, he has shown the ability to make tough catches across the middle of the defense, take a big hit and get up ready for the next play.
The only thing Butler has struggled with is acclimating as a return guy. He’s returned five kicks so far, finally breaking off a decent run in his final attempt against the Broncos, when he burst through the right side for 37 yards after muffing the kickoff.
Butler also has struggled returning punts, averaging just 5 yards a return.
“I did a lot of it as far as practicing, so that helped me coming here and practicing,” Butler said about his college experience on returns. “Obviously with the games, it’s going to be slightly different. But the most comfortable thing I’m dealing with is catching the ball, and that’s what you want. You’ve got to catch the ball, and after that, running and everything else is natural.”
Seahawks head coach Jim Mora said he’ll continue to put Butler back on returns to get him as many reps possible. Mora blames Butler’s struggles returning kicks partly on the rules changes that no longer allow four-man wedges.
“I don’t think I am alone in saying I am not satisfied with our kickoff return,” Mora said. “With as much potential as I see Butler having as a wide receiver, I am not sure I want to expose him to injury right now as we get that sorted out in our kickoff return game. I think you’ll see a little less of No. 11 out there catching kickoffs. We still would like to see him catch punts, because it’s something he hasn’t done a lot of.”
With three experienced hands in T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Nate Burleson and Deion Branch playing in front of them, Butler has focused mainly on playing the split end position. Butler currently is behind Burleson on the team’s depth chart.
So for now, Butler will continue to bone up on the playbook and work to get better as a return man so the team can better utilize his speed.
“That’s one of the good things about having three veterans,” Butler said. “I can come in and work slowly as far as getting into what I need to work on.”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437
SEATTLE (2-0) at Kansas City (0-2)
Kickoff: 5 p.m., Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City.
Television: Ch. 5. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The skinny: Seahawks coach Jim Mora is expected to play the starters extensively for three quarters as Seattle treats this as a regular-season game. Recently added running back Edgerrin James practiced very little this week and is not expected to play much, if at all, today. Offensive tackle Walter Jones (knee), center Chris Spencer (quad) and cornerback Marcus Trufant (back) will not play for Seattle.
Eric D. Williams, The News Tribune